We desk workers spend an average of six to upwards of fifteen hours every single day sitting in front of a digital screen. According to the American Heart Association, sedentary jobs have increased 83% since 1950, and with them came work burnout and a whole slew of associated health risks and serious, yet preventable diseases.
Many professionals, including myself, strive to offset the negative effects of sedentary work life with an active and regular workout routine. While moving our bodies is an undeniably helpful counterbalancing habit to adopt, it turns out there’s also a lot more we can do to maximize our sense of physical and mental well-being with the help of Workplace Wellness Design.
My Wellness Design Studio, Mache, defines “Workplace Wellness Design” as the intersection of interior design and optimal health and wellness at work. Whenever possible, it’s best to work with a wellness design professional who can successfully guide the design process and ensure you reach your aesthetic, functional, and wellness goals.
That said, if you have that DIY spirit and the time to self-perform your own workplace transformation from a soul-sucking abyss to a spirit-activating oasis, then allow me to highlight three easy-to-adopt Wellness Design principles to put you on the right path.
DELIGHT (and PROTECT) your HUMAN SENSES
Our human senses have the power and potential to influence our perceptions of the world around us. Intentionally adapting sensory design elements – colors, lighting, sounds, textures, and smells – can enhance productivity and a feeling of wellbeing in our workspaces. Let’s explore how we might use our senses to inform the design process and create space that lends itself to productivity, creativity, and the long-term health of our minds and bodies.
Sight: Design and maintain a clear and clean workspace; organized and free from distractions. Instead of cluttering your space with artwork and tchotchke, think about enhancing your space with live plants, specifically air-purifying varieties, such as spider plants, that don’t require too much fuss.
The best lighting for your home office is indirect light. If light is directly hitting your screen, the glare can cause unnecessary eye strain. Flexible lighting is best, so you can control the brightness and position of the light source during your work day. Minimize the amount of LED blue light radiation with blue light glasses and apps readily available in the marketplace. If you do have a window, position your desk nearby, for the natural light but also being able to see the outside world can have a restorative effect on the mind and body and a therapeutic effect on the eyes.
Consider which colors are optimal for your workday goals. By using color strategically you can promote desired behavioral outcomes. Colors, such as red and green, are conducive to focusing on details and achieving accuracy. Blues are associated with calm, mental clarity, and creative thinking. Yellow and orange promote alertness, allow for clear decision-making, and enliven discussions.
Smell: Select a yummy candle or diffuser that can help shift the energy of your space, both physically and mentally. Beware of chemicals and artificial scents, and lean into pure essential oils. For example, peppermint oil can ease a headache, fight afternoon fatigue, lift your mood for that important meeting, and support your memory when you’re feeling the dreaded brain fog!
Sound: Experiment with instrumental music that is scientifically proven to light up your brain. In his book Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, leading psychiatrist in brain health Dr. Daniel Amen says that exposure to different types of music can have vastly different effects on the brain and its development. His studies reveal that classical music scores highest on eliciting a positive mental state, while heavy metal was linked to destructive thinking and behavior. Of course, you can always opt-in on the soothing sounds of nature, such as water features, as they do wonders to relax the nervous system and stimulate mental focus subconsciously.
Taste: Remove all snacks devoid of nutrients from the workspace…even ‘healthy’ snacks! Unconscious eating while working can lead to weight gain, distraction, and a messy workspace. Avoid the sugar crash (food-induced energy dips) by ditching carbohydrate-heavy foods at lunch and instead opting for meals with a low glycemic index, such as chicken, avocados, brown rice, and veggies. When hunger pains take over clear thought, and you just need to fuel up between meals, reach for blueberries and walnuts. Blueberries are a great choice when you want something sweet but want to avoid the downfalls of sugar intake. They offer high levels of antioxidants, phyto-flavonoids, potassium, and vitamin C and their high fiber content helps to make you feel full. Walnuts have a high amount of Omega 3 fatty acids, help to lower “bad” cholesterol and act as a natural anti-inflammatory.
Lastly, when we are engrossed in our work it is easy to forget to drink fluids. Develop a clean water and tea station in your work environment to keep yourself properly hydrated and flush out toxin buildup throughout your work day.
Touch: Transform your workspace with the power of natural materials. Wood and textiles are associated with a warm and cozy feel, while materials like metal and plastic convey a cold, sterile, and uninviting environment. Think of a diverse palette of textures, such as pairing a rough wooden desk with a smooth sleek chair. Whichever materials you choose, be conscious of their potential to off-gas unwanted chemicals into your environment. Many home goods are made from toxic materials, so read the “ingredients” like you would the food items you pick up at the market.
In addition, block unwanted “digital damage” to your face with a non-toxic water-based sunscreen, such as my favorites from Coola! It’s also important to keep your skin hydrated when working in front of a computer all day by using a natural spray toner, such as witch hazel or rosewater. Ahhhh, refreshing!
BUILD IN WELLBEING BREAKS
Step away! Even if your work demands make you feel you don’t have time for a break, take it anyway. You will be happy you did and will find that you are actually more productive overall. Get some fresh air, new scenery, and a different perspective. Take a short walk around your yard or neighborhood. Be sure to focus on the nature around you, rejuvenating both your mind and body. When weather permits, get your bare feet on the earth. The earth is a natural source of energy. Think of it as a giant battery waiting for you to plug in!
Research shows that within four seconds of grounding your feet in the earth, your muscles begin to relax and your nervous system calms. Green grass or moist sand are perfect for this practice, as moist surfaces are more conductive than dry. Even ceramic tile, unpainted concrete, and brick that is laid directly on the earth are conductive surfaces! When working from a home office, we can miss that drive when we could decompress from the day before reaching home. This “earthing” practice is a great way to complete the workday by helping you to shake it all off and shift your energy into personal time.
In addition to substantial and hard-earned work breaks, try to weave in a handful of mini-movement opportunities right at your desk! A few neck rolls, back arches, and arm and leg lifts can easily be done while sitting in your chair. Setting a timer reminder at first can help you remember to do this until it becomes the new healthy habit you cannot live without.
I started a yoga and fitness storage company as a result of my desperation to find attractive, eco-friendly and space-efficient storage for my favorite wellness tool, my Manduka Pro yoga mat. Having my mat nearby while I work, stored in functional art made from eco-friendly materials, makes it easy and accessible to unroll my mat for those occasional stretch sessions throughout the workday.
EMBRACE PROPER ERGONOMICS
Body Ergonomics: Explore the ergonomics of your work day to ensure the proper alignment of bones and energy flow, thereby reducing a multitude of health risks associated with prolonged, static postures such as sitting and standing.
When seated, use a chair that supports the natural curves of your spine. Your feet should rest flat on the floor or on a footrest with your thighs parallel to the floor. Adjust your armrests so your arms rest gently on them with lowered and relaxed shoulders. Position your computer so that your chin is parallel to the floor, not looking up or down, and place the screen at least two feet from your eyes. Add an ergonomically correct mouse to protect your wrists by avoiding issues that arise from prolonged repetitive use.
When using a standing desk, position your arms and head the same as you would sitting. Wear supportive footwear and consider an anti-fatigue mat. A footrest is great for shifting your weight from side to side and be sure to alternate sitting and standing work every 30 to 60 minutes.
Let’s not forget about eye ergonomics. Eye specialists warn us from focusing our eyes at the same distance for prolonged periods of time, as this can contribute to eye strain issues. Instead, they recommend the 20-20-20 rule. At least every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break and look at something 20 feet away from you to avoid chronic eye discomfort. This practice, accompanied by the use of blue-light blockers will do wonders for keeping your beautiful eyes healthy and strong!
Building a new company (or career) from scratch can turn into a house of cards without a solid foundation of self-care. We work so very hard towards our professional goals, that we can often lose sight of our personal wellbeing, thereby putting our aims in jeopardy.
Our work and play experiences are derived from all five human senses. We are at our most stimulated and creative when we interact with colors, light, textures, sounds, nature, scents and all that makes up our environment. In our home office we can curate these interactions to promote productivity, health, and wellness. We can ignite our imaginations, narrow and broaden our focus, and alternate between deep calm and vibrant energy all within the same work day and work space.
By integrating health and wellness into your work life you can begin focusing on slaying that dragon of a task list on your desk. Designing your workplace for wellness and creating a self-care routine will look different for everyone and it is critical to base the design and practice on your own unique needs and capabilities.
First, you will want to design your space to nourish and protect your human senses; determine which senses are being neglected in your current workspace and make the necessary adjustments to introduce sensory support while working. Second, commit to moving your body every day, WHILE AT WORK! Third, run through an ergonomic checklist of your work tools and habitual posturing.
If time constraints or confidence in your design sensibilities is keeping you from realizing a workplace wellness transformation, DM me on Elpha or drop me an email at [email protected]. I would be happy to help you maximize your productivity and sustain your health and wellness on your path to becoming your best self.
Thank you for your time and energy. May you be well and make great things happen!